Photo of damage to the interior and exterior of one of our greenhouses.
Before I launch into what we’ve been doing since we finally got commercial power, I need to thank my brother-in-law, Danny Rokyta. Danny came over the day before Harvey hit to make sure Carl and I had properly installed our generator’s transfer switch. He took time from his hurricane preparations to help us. He also, after his cell service was restored, gave advice on later electrical work we did.
We’ve mostly been working on fish, but Carl and I took a half-day to remove the metal roof on the farmhouse. We had installed a metal roof on the south side of the house, waiting to finish the north side after a planned rebuild of a utility room and bedroom. Unfortunately, that allowed the hurricane winds to get under the edge of roof ridge and have its way with our roof. The damage was significant and the roof required removal. Fortunately, I took the advice online when installing the metal roof and installed it over our shingle roof. We have some minor leaks that are being fixed by tarping. We’ll replace the metal roof later.
To get commercial power back up, Carl and I had to cut up a tree that fell across the line to our meter loop.
Now that all the water pumps working properly, we’ve turned to clean up. A remarkable amount of tree debris such as small branches and leaves blew into the topless greenhouses. Also, our aquaponics plants, our means of water filtration, were stripped of leaves and branches. The larger plants were broken and fell across the walkways.
First order of business was cutting out and removing the broken plants to clear the walkways so we could walk through the greenhouses without crawling over and under branches. That took two days. We cut broken and bent branches and hauled them out of the greenhouses to a worm compost pile. I calculated I walked about seven miles during this process.
We’ve started removing leaves, twigs, and excess good plants from the vats. This process will take several days. The leaves and twigs must be removed because they will rot at the same time our water purification plants are trying to recover from the storm. If they rot, water quality will suffer. The excess of good plants such as hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) needs removal so we can feed the fish. Ashley, our pregnant employee, and I removed 20 pounds of duckweed and 125 pounds of hornwort today. The duckweed went to our chickens; they love it. The hornwort was placed on the compost pile for our worms to process. Speaking of the worms, I haven’t taken the time to check their population levels. With all the rain and wet ground, I expect many of the worms went on a walk-about (guess that should be “crawl-about”).
Susie and I also began working fish again four days ago. This involves netting fish out of the vats, cleaning the vats, selecting breeders and setting up breeders, setting up sale vats, and setting up juvenile vats. We processed Gold Freckle Sailfin Mollies, Gold Freckle Lyretail Mollies, Redtail Blue Hifin Variatus, Gold Nugget Sailfin Mollies, Gold Nugget Lyretail Mollies, and some breeder Ancistrus cirrhosus, bristlenose catfish. We intend to start shipping fish tomorrow.
Before winter, we’ll have to replace the plastic film Carl and I cut out of the greenhouses to save the structures.
A couple of interesting items. First, during the peak of the hurricane, while we had hurricane force winds, many shorebirds came to rest and shelter in our pasture.
One seagull was too tired to fly more than 20 feet and Oso, our male German Shepherd, caught and held him down for me. I carried it to Carl’s house and fed it wieners. The gull alternated between biting me (sharp bill) and eagerly eating.
Second, we had 13+ inches of rain. The ground was so saturated that Carl found a young gopher on top of the ground to escape water in its tunnels.
Following are the posts I made to Facebook during the short periods of time we had cell phone service. The posts are in order of occurrence.
As I’m writing this, it’s 10:00 am Saturday. About 7:00 am, the eye of Harvey went across us, giving us about 20-30 minutes of calm.
The prior night, Carl and I started working on removing the plastic film from two of our greenhouses. I’d hoped that wouldn’t be necessary, that Harvey would weaken enough or change course and the plastic could stay on. Wrong! Harvey didn’t cooperate and we had to cut it out. Lots of fun in hurricane force winds. After finishing that task, Carl and I drove across to his house in our north pasture, about a ¼ mile. Coming back an hour later, we were blocked by a tree down across our lane. We walked back through the wind driven, stinging rain. We got in about 2:30 am, tried to sleep (I’d been up for 23 hours at this point). At 2:55 am power failed.
At dawn, I went out in hurricane force winds to check on things. Lots of trees down. The electric line to the house was down. Between us and the road, a span of electric wire was on the ground. Our internet tower was on the ground.
We did still have occasional cell service and Susie monitored the storm. Around 8:00 am Carl and I walked to his house to check on it and his dogs. All was good there. On the way, we ran into a flock of exhausted gulls and terns resting on our pond. Geysers of air were boiling up through the water as air in dry cracks was forced out by the rainwater (at that point we’d had about 9” of rain).
Arriving back home, I found that the west hurricane winds had severely damaged our roof. The good news on the fish front, is the generator was keeping our fish alive by powering most of our water pumps. The bad news is a fair amount of structural damage to the greenhouses and lots of debris to be cleaned up. Not to mention the task of replacing plastic film before fall arrives. All the other animals are fine. The horses demanded oats even though they had to stand in hurricane force winds to eat them.
Later we’ll check our perimeter fencing to see what repairs will be necessary. With all the trees down, I’m sure there’ll be lots of repairs to do.
Based on previous hurricane experience (and this one is still not over), we’ll probably have no power for several days. If the rain projections are true, we’ll be cut off for three or four days.
Just now the winds are gradually dying as Harvey moves away. The projections show Harvey turning and coming back over us as a tropical storm later today.
I’ll post this during one of the short periods AT&T service is up long enough.
As I’m writing this, it’s 8:00 pm Sunday. We’ve had an active 34 hours since my last update.
Shortly after my last update, Carl activated the generator and turned on the greenhouse pumps. The heavy winds, cool temperatures, and rain had provided adequate aeration for the fish until that time. We had some minor losses in a couple of crowded tanks. One pump failed to come on, but we balanced the water load enough to keep things going. That pump actually worked, but didn’t pump water due to an air leak. I know how to fix that, but there were too many other things to do to justify the time investment.
Carl and I checked two of our perimeter fences and found only minor damage, but found that the power line from the road to our two transformers was down. The trunk line was dead, so no problem. We also found a large tree had fallen over the line between the house transformer and the house. Again, no problem since there was no power anyway.
We still had hurricane force winds and the three of us were exhausted from three nights with very little sleep, so after checking critical things, we napped. After the naps, I removed a tree blocking our lane to the road. Then, Susie and I decided to drive toward Victoria in hopes of getting a cell phone signal. We drove almost to Victoria with no luck, dodging trees down on the roads. (We later discovered that Victoria was under a 24-hour curfew, but we didn’t encounter law enforcement, so no foul.) We took highway US-59 to Goliad to check on friends’ houses. There were lots of trees down and the city had no power. Heading home, we got a cell signal for about a minute. At home, conditions were still not favorable for the tasks we had planned, so Carl, Susie, and I drank wine and planned the next day. Carl went to his house to sleep. We were all in bed by 10:00 and slept until dawn, the first full night’s sleep we’d had in a while.
Sunday morning (today, I think; it seems like this has been going on for weeks now), after checking on the animals at both houses, we worked on wiring the well pump, two chest freezers, a refrigerator, and a battery charger to the generator. The house is too far from the generator to wire up, but the warehouse and office are adjacent to it. The warehouse houses the two chest freezers and the office has a refrigerator. The well is nearby. I’m not an electrician, but living on a farm remote from services, you learn to do many different things. Susie wasn’t happy that I refused to turn off the generator while wiring in two new breakers, but I didn’t want to deal with bringing up and priming the greenhouse water pumps, so I worked the wiring hot. There were no incidents (had there been, I suppose you wouldn’t be reading this since I wouldn’t have written it), and we had running water and working freezers and refrigerator.
Carl had charged up some car and tractor 12-volt batteries, and he moved them to the house and installed an inverter so we could run some 115 volt devices such as computers, cell phone charges, and our propane demand hot water heater (this allowed us to take hot showers).
Susie, after much complaining, cleaned the office refrigerator, which housed some dead fish, aquaculture chemicals, and many unidentified things. You would have thought I’d asked her to clean out our septic system. Nevertheless, she sterilized the refrigerator. I vacated one of the chest freezers. Susie then spent most of the afternoon moving the contents of the house refrigerator and freezer out to the working ones. That wasn’t an easy task since it required a lot of trips of almost 200 yards each. Interestingly enough, despite being out of power for over 36 hours, the food from the refrigerator was still cold and that from the freezer frozen. Susie did some triage and the dogs each got a pork chop and a couple of slices of liver.
While Susie worked on food transfers, Carl and I cut up the large tree that had fallen over the electric line. That way, should our electric co-op show up, they can remount the line. On that subject, we expect to be without power for a week or two. With luck, we have enough propane to keep the generator running.
As an aside, Oso, our male German Shepherd, caught one of the many sea gulls occupying the lake our pasture has been become. One gull was too exhausted to fly and Oso held it down until I picked it up. The gull didn’t appreciate that and bit me a few times. Gulls have surprisingly sharp beaks. I carried it to Carl’s house and fed it some wiener. The gull alternated between biting me and eating. After it refused to eat anymore, Oso and I released it on a lily pond. Sunday morning, it, the other gulls, terns, and other shore birds were gone. Guess they returned to the coast.
Tomorrow, Susie is going to Austin to do laundry. We’ve each gone through many changes of clothes due to rain and mud. She’ll also pick up some needed supplies.
Weather update: winds are gusty, but not bad. We’re at 11.3” of rain. Roads are open and no road flooding.
The reason for such a long time between updates is that AT&T cell service was down most of the time. It has improved late this afternoon, and I repositioned our cell phone booster to improve the signal. Maybe we’ll have better communications going forward. It’s been frustrating to not know what’s going on in the world. Has Trump attacked North Korea and done something else I should know about?
Date Line: Goliad Swamp, 10:00 am Monday, August 28, 2017
We’re up to 12.6” of rain, having had 1.3” overnight. It’s been slow enough that local streams haven’t cut us off, but the ground is saturated. Even the gophers are coming up to the surface to avoid drowning. Walking outside involves sinking into the “ground.” It’s a quagmire.
About 8:00 am Susie left for Austin. She got only 30 miles north to Cuero to find the roads east, west, and north out of Cuero closed. She’s had to return to Goliad in an attempt to flank the flooding. She advises me that I’m on my own since, if she gets to Austin, she’s spending the night in Austin. Carl offered to make lunch for me, so I guess I won’t starve.
The dogs, chickens (only one loss so far), horses, and donkeys are growing webbed feet to deal with the swamp.
Because we have no air conditioning the house is open. The dogs and I track in lots of mud (can’t be avoided), so I plan to sweep and mop today. I doubt the mop water will dry anytime soon.
Harvey is off to our east so we have north winds and light rain. If Harvey stays there, we’re due to heavier rains. If Harvey moves up the coast we might dry out some. At least it’s cool. I feel for the millions of people up the coast who are getting heavier rains. By the way, 12.6” is more than a third of our normal annual rainfall. But, I hate complaining since we came out relatively unscathed.
Today’s agenda? House cleaning, dish washing, assessing greenhouse damages and fish losses, maybe chopping up some more trees over fences, etc. At least cell phone communications have dramatically improved.
I’d planned to attend the Goliad County Commissioner’s Court meeting this morning to discuss our budget woes, but it seems to have been cancelled. Goliad County has a 9:00 pm to 7:00 curfew in effect. I hear Goliad has some power restored. Victoria County apparently still has widespread power and water outages. One of my sisters evacuated to Shreveport, LA to another sister’s house. It seems Harvey plans to dump a lot of rain on them. My other sister stayed home, about a mile away. Carl and I checked on her and her husband and reported to their kids they were fine.
Not to complain or anything, but the dogs and I have apparently been abandoned overnight by Susie.
Below is what I wrote yesterday morning about the day before. I couldn’t post it because we didn’t have cell service. I’ll write about yesterday today or in the morning and post it, if possible.
Day Five with No Power
We are without commercial power for the fifth day now (power went out 2:55 am Saturday and I’m writing this at 9:30 am Wednesday). Since, we’ve been running critical functions such as greenhouse water pumps, water well, charging devices for batteries and cell phones, and, most importantly to Susie, the controls for our propane hot water demand heater. She will put up with a lot, but hot showers are a necessity. While the heater uses propane for heating, it requires power to tell it to turn on.
Cell phones provide our only means of communications, both voice and internet (via hotspot). Our internet tower was destroyed, but even if we put up a new one, I don’t know if our ISP’s tower survived or has power. Carl got his internet up yesterday, but his tower survived and he’s pointed to a different tower. I guess Susie and I could trudge a quarter mile through water and mud with our computers to his house, but we’ll probably just occasionally power up our cell phone booster (without which we don’t a strong enough connection for even texting) and use the hotspot to get on Facebook and process emails.
Yesterday was productive until late afternoon. Carl worked on chain-sawing trees off fences and repairing fences. Susie returned from Austin with loads of clean and dry washing and needed supplies. While awaiting Susie’s return, I worked on checking circuits for potential rewiring to improve generator operation, did some much-needed house cleaning (three large dogs and three people can carry loads of dirt in when it’s so wet out), cleaned up the mess from a roof collapse in our utility room, hand washed (with bleach and detergent) a large stack of dishes, and transported heavy batteries from the house to the generator for recharging. Carl set up a system using 12-volt batteries and an inverter to provide some power at the house since it’s too far to run a power line.
After lunch, Susie and I drove into Victoria to check on my sister’s house. She and her husband had evacuated to Louisiana to stay with another sister. She wanted to know if they had a house left and if it had power so they could return home. The drive into Victoria was grim. Downed power lines (and many trucks and teams from around the state and even from other states working on them), downed trees, and damaged buildings. In town, most of the traffic lights weren’t working at all. Some were blinking red in all directions. A very few cycled properly. Since much of the city was without power, people congregated at the few businesses that had power and were open or sat on their front porches or walk around talking to neighbors. There was lots of vehicular traffic, which made driving a bit treacherous. Drives didn’t seem to understand stopping and taking turns at dead lights. We had to stop for EMS and fire and, when we got to their destination, we found two mangled cars at an intersection with all directions flashing red. One thing was saw NONE of was FEMA or any federal agencies of any kind.
Arriving at my sister’s house, we found they’d lost some shingles, many of their trees had downed limbs, and power was not on. I checked with one of their neighbors and they also had no power. Since the service line to their meter was intact, I assumed the entire area was probably without power. We’ll probably go back into town today to check again. AEP, Victoria’s electric company, was everywhere working. We saw trucks from all over the country, as far away as Virginia.
HEB, a Texas grocery store chain, had both their stores open. But since Victoria has a curfew, they would be closing at 7:00 pm. We stopped at one store and picked up some food supplies. The store was full of people and the shelfs were empty in spots. It turns out the Vienna sausages are popular when you have no power.
Our final stop was Loew’s, also open until 7:00 pm. I picked up supplies needed make some piping repairs.
We left Victoria by the north route on Loop 463. We’d entered Victoria on the south side via US 59 Business. Both routes cross the Guadalupe River. In both cases the river’s flood waters were disturbingly close to the bridges. That river is over the roads upstream of Victoria, a situation that had caused Susie to route way west to get to Austin on Monday. I wonder if we’ll be cut off from Victoria in the next day or so.
Arriving home, we unloaded and then Susie said the dreaded, “The pump is out. There’s no water.” I told her to call Carl and let him know. I changed into work clothes and rubber boots and trudged out to the generator. I was surprised to find the generator running. Then, I was puzzled to find that none of the greenhouse pumps were working, the circuit for the freezers, refrigerator, and charging equipment was dead, and water well breaker was not tripped. I turned off the generator and checked its oil level and opened the transfer switch and electrical panel, nothing seemed amiss. Carl arrived shortly afterwards and while I went to get tools, he began to diagnose the problem. By the time I got back, Carl had discovered the problem. A junction box had melted down and one of the hot leads was no longer connected. It took us a while to re-terminate the power leads, wiring around the unnecessary junction box. The box was corroded anyway. By the way, we discovered the original transfer switch, which we’d replaced last week just before Harvey hit, had failed because a mud dauber built her nest in the way and the switch couldn’t operate and exploded instead. Corrosion, mud daubers, hurricanes, floods…what else can nature throw at us?
About dark we got the generator working. We turned on the water pumps one by one. But, the water well pump refused to work. The relay in the controller would click, but the capacitor wouldn’t turn the pump motor on. Before we could turn our attentions to that, I discovered no water running in greenhouse #2. It turned out the sump had a water level too low for the pumps to pick up; they were sucking air. Each greenhouse loses about 500 gallons a day of water from evaporation and operations. Also, greenhouse #2 has a leak I’ve never could find, accounting for maybe another 500 gallons. That is made up by tricking well water in. I was rationing well water, so the sump was already low. Then, when the pumps stopped when the generator failed to power them during the afternoon, all the vats and the floor gutter ran out water to the level of the overflows. That water overfilled the sump and the sump’s overflow pushed the surplus water out into our wetland behind the greenhouses (a wetland to be converted to a fig orchard if I ever get the time). When the pumps came back on, the vats and floor gutter refilled from the sump and the water level got too low.
I couldn’t fill the sump from the well since that pump wasn’t working; but we keep two 1,000 vats outside for emergencies like this. I quickly connected a sump pump to the generator and started pumping water from one of those vats. I usually use a trash pump that pumps a 2” stream, but I feared the circuit would be overloaded by it. The sump pump, which pumps a water hose sized stream, would have to do.
Next, I turned off all the pumps in greenhouse #2 to avoid damaging them. Then, I finally turned attention back the well. I suspected a failed capacitor in the controller and installed a new capacitor. Miracle of all miracles, it worked! We had water. I opened valves in greenhouse #2 and watched the water level creep up. When it got high enough, I turned on the water pumps and unplugged the sump pump to avoid it running dry. It being after 10:00 pm of a very long day, I went to bed. Waking at 3:15 am, I checked the greenhouses. All was good, greenhouse #2 sump was full. I cut back the well water input to its normal maintenance and went back to bed.
As of the writing of this, all is okay.
Day Seven with No Power
It’s 8: 30 am as I start this missive. We are without commercial power for the seventh day now. Anyway, I think it’s seven days. It is Friday, isn’t it?
We’ve not seen hide nor hair of our electric co-op. Their website says we might get commercial power tomorrow. I’m skeptical.
The last two days have been a blur of chain-sawing and hauling limbs and branches. Carl is a wizard with the chainsaw, so he cuts and Susie and I haul. It’s hot dirty work. The mosquito hatch makes it worse. We douse ourselves in repellant, but they are good at finding a spot you didn’t cover. I haven’t identified the species of mosquito, but they are large and active only in the daytime. And, they chase you. This morning when I went out to check the generator and greenhouses I had to run to stay ahead of them. I made two trips out and back, each roundtrip being a bit over and sixth of a mile, so before breakfast I ran at least a third of a mile.
Yesterday, the heat and humidity caught up with us, and we quit working about 4:00 pm. After we all showered and sort of groomed ourselves for civilization, Carl, Susie, and I went to the big city of Goliad for dinner and drinks. Goliad has some power back. We ran into some friends on the Square and ate with them at the Empresario Restaurant. There was air-conditioning! Afterwards, we went to Commercial Street Bar, which also had air-conditioning. We felt cold for the first time in days. After exchanging storm stories and tales with friends at the bar, we headed home about 8:30.
Arriving at the farm, Carl walked to his house and I went out to check the generator and greenhouses. All seemed in order. But, when I entered the house, Susie, “The well is out.” Those are some of the worst words in the English language. I sighed and went to check the well. Before I got to the well, I discovered the generator wasn’t running. The damned thing was running just minutes before, but was deathly quiet now. I opened the top to find the low oil light on. I got a wrench and opened the side panel and saw a puddle of oil. When we’d serviced the generator a couple of days earlier, we’d apparently failed to tighten the oil filter enough. We’d followed the instructions on tightening, but it wasn’t enough. I returned to the house to tell Susie and to have her call Carl to bring oil.
We added oil and generator came on. Unfortunately, once again we’d lost too much water from the sumps. It was 3:00 am before I got the sumps filled and all the pumps primed and running. I’m very tired of having no commercial power. After this experience, I’m going to gradually replace our above ground pumps with submersible pumps. That is not a trivial expense, since we have eleven pumps, each of which costs nearly a $1,000. But, it’ll be worth it to not worry about priming pumps.
Carl just arrived to begin chain-sawing. Even covered in repellant, he had been bitten repeatedly on the way over. It’s not going to be a pleasant morning. But, he had some good news. Friends about a mile to east now had power. Maybe the co-op will get to us today.
Day Eight Since Power Went Out
First of all, the last of the farm’s three electric meters come on around 4:00 pm today. The meter for the greenhouses, office, warehouse, and trailer came on yesterday afternoon. Carl’s house started working this morning. So, life is good; although it’ll take days to catch up laundry and dishes. But, the A/C is running and the TV and satellite are working. We don’t have service from our ISP yet (they need to rebuild a destroyed tower), but have internet access via I-phone hotspots.
Let me catch you up on the happenings since my last communication. Yesterday morning we finished chain-sawing and hauling trees so the co-op can restring the neutral line. Although, I found out the it isn’t necessary for getting service back. That shows what I don’t know about electricity. Then in the afternoon, without the co-op alerting us, power came on at the greenhouses. I moved the well back to commercial power and left only the water pumps in the greenhouses running on the generator. As it turns out, I should have transferred those pumps to commercial power as well. But, I wasn’t completely convinced co-op power would continue to work without hiccups and it takes lots of time and energy to re-prime all the pumps after restarting them. I decided to wait until the next morning. Susie, the dogs, and I moved into the trailer, which is air conditioned. After an evening check of all systems, we had an early night at dusk.
Carl stayed at his house using a portable air conditioner powered by a gasoline generator to stay cool. He expected Kathy and the girls home later in the evening.
Remember that I was going to wait until the next morning to move the water pumps to co-op power? Well, sometime around 3:30 am I got up to check the generator. The damned thing wasn’t running. Once again oil had leaked out and it shut down. I then converted the water pumps to co-op power and spent until 5:30 am re-priming pumps. One balky pump is still not priming. I’ll have to replumb it to insure it does in the future.
After too little sleep, Susie and I cleaned up and went to see Oso’s puppies between here and Victoria. They had just gone on sale and two of the ten had already sold. The remaining puppies (a little over six weeks old) romped around and untied my shoe strings repeatedly. There is little cuter than German Shepherd puppies.
When we got home, the dogs and I went to Carl’s to pick up some tools I needed to repair our meter loop so the co-op would reconnect us. While there, Susie sent the co-op workers to Carl’s where they quickly connected his service. The balance of the morning Susie, Carl, and I repaired the meter loop. After noon, Susie went to Victoria to run errands. She says recovery is very slow there.
Around 3:30 pm the co-op showed up and reconnected our cables. I think we’ll spend most of the rest of the day enjoying A/C and TV. Tomorrow, we will assess the damage and plan a long recovery.